Code of Conduct Construction and Content

There are different ways to structure an effective code. Some are very brief and provide little more than the core values or principles of an organization. Others are extremely detailed and lengthy, offering every rule of conduct an organization can think of. Either way, be willing to invest in a professional, user-friendly product.

Writing Style and Organization
The manner in which the code of conduct is written, organized and presented will have an important impact on the degree to which employees will understand the code or refer back to it. Because an organization generally intends its code to be read by employees at different levels of responsibility and in a wide range of functional areas, the code should be written in plain, direct language. The syntax should be uncomplicated.
Guidelines for writing an ethics code:

  • Be clear about the objectives that the code is intended to accomplish.
  • Get support and ideas for the code from all levels of the organization.
  • Be aware of the latest developments in the laws and regulations that affect your industry.
  • Write as simply and clearly as possible. Avoid legal jargon and empty generalities.
  • Respond to real-life questions and situations.
  • Provide resources for further information and guidance.
  • In all its forms, make it user-friendly because ultimately a code fails if it is not used.

Form and Content
There are different ways of structuring codes. We recommend the following code outline:
I.    Memorable Title
Ii.   Leadership Letter
Iii.  Table of Contents
Iv.  Introduction-Prologue
V.   Core Values of Organization
Vi.  Code Provisions-Substantive Matters
Vii.  Information and Resources

For detailed information about code format and content, see Creating a Workable Company Code of Ethics, pp. 29-35.

Driscoll, Dawn-Marie and W. Michael Hoffman, Ethics Matters: How to Implement Values-Driven Management, 2000, p. 77.